Piave’s career spanned over twenty years working with many of the significant composers of his day, including Giovanni Pacini (four librettos), Saverio Mercadante (at least one), Federico Ricci, and even one for Michael Balfe. He is most well known as Giuseppe Verdi‘s librettist, for whom he was to write 10 librettos, the most well-known being those for Rigoletto and La traviata.
But Piave was not only a librettist: he was a journalist and translator in addition to being the resident poet and stage manager at La Fenice in Venice where he first encountered Verdi. Later, Verdi was helpful in securing him the same position at La Scala in Milan. His expertise as a stage manager and his tact as a negotiator served Verdi very well, but the composer bullied him mercilessly for his pains over many years.
Like Verdi, Piave was an ardent Italian patriot, and in 1848, during Milan’s “Cinque Giornate,” when Radetzky’s Austrian troops retreated from the city, Verdi wrote to Piave in Venice addressing him as “Citizen Piave.”
Together, they worked on ten operas between 1844 and 1862, and Piave would have also prepared the libretto for Aida when Verdi accepted the commission for it in 1870, had he not suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed and unable to speak. Verdi helped to support his wife and daughter, proposing that “an album of pieces by famous composers be compiled and sold for Piave’s benefit”. The composer paid for his funeral when he died nine years later in Milan aged 65 and arranged for his burial at the Monumental Cemetery.